If you prioritize low weight and direct trail feel, there is no substitute for a hardtail. Foregoing rear suspension increases pedaling efficiency and reduces mechanical complexity, leading to a snappy and simple bike.
For committed winter mountain bikers, repeated pivot bearing replacements after a muddy season of off-road cycling can be annoying and expensive. With a hardtail, that is never an issue.
Mountain bikes without rear suspension are also, by implication, lighter and transfer a rider’s power output better when climbing or riding along on a flat trail. Those mountain bikers who enjoy riding manicured singletrack at high speed and get great reward from perfectly railing berms will enjoy the trail feedback from a hardtail, undiluted by rear suspension sag under compression.
With advancements in frame technology and rim width, not to mention the best mountain bike tires are now available in bigger sizes, hardtails are a lot less taxing on the body than was the case a few years ago. A carefully considered hardtail build can deliver tremendous all-round riding ability, for much less money than the best full-suspension mountain bikes.
The overall ownership cost of a hardtail is also much reduced, due to the absence of a secondary rear shock and pivots, which can compound costs. This is especially true for riders who roll most of their miles in extremely muddy or dusty environments, where trail contaminants can ruin bearings and pivots.
Keep scrolling to see Bike Perfect's pick of the best hardtail mountain bikes, from cross-country whippets to the truly hardcore.
The best hardtail mountain bikes
Cannondale hasn't shied away from innovation and almost every area of the Cannondale F-Si World Cup uses unique features to maximize the bike's performance.
Cannondale uses its top-tier BallisTec Hi-MOD Carbon which builds into a frame with a claimed weight of 900g. To reduce fatigue, SAVE micro flex zones are built into the seat tube and Ai Offset rear triangle for impact absorption when standing during descents or seated pedaling. Cannondale uses a proprietary Ai Offset rear end which gives the F-Si a short 427mm chainstay for an agile ride quality without sacrificing tire clearance or front gearing options.
Cannondale's Lefty fork concept has long been much of an oddity with its single leg design. The new generation Ocho Carbon single crown fork features 100mm of tunable and plush travel and is controlled with a cable lockout. A 55mm offset is part of Cannondale's OutFront steering geometry for stable yet nimble handling characteristics.
Mondraker has forgone the unique profile of the last generation Podium for a more traditional look.
Although Mondraker was among the first bike brands to champion longer bikes with its forward geometry concept, the Podium does not rank as an exceptionally long frame by 2020 standards. Its reach of 425-477mm (depending on size) is on the shorter side.
It remains an impressively light bike suited to those who wish to register PRs on the climbs. With a built weight of only 8.4kg, the Mondraker Podium is even lighter than the previous generation model.
The Yeti ARC has been around since the '90s, and this year the classic bike has gotten a refresh. Boasting 130mm of fork travel, the ARC is a modern trail slayer.
On its top-tier models, Yeti uses TURQ carbon construction for a stiff, lightweight, and durable frame. Bolted onto the frame are quality components, like a SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain and a Fox Factory 34 fork on the top-end model.
This bike is not necessarily designed to be a World Cup race bike, but a talented rider could certainly make it go fast on any course. This is an ideal bike for trail riders who prioritize chunky terrain and even multi-day bikepacking adventures.
Another contemporary carbon hardtail that runs a 27.2mm seat post, Santa Cruz’s Highball might have all the attributes of a lightweight racing machine, but it does not shy away from descents.
Santa Cruz established its reputation with trail and downhill bikes. The company’s engineering focus is biased toward descending, but with the Highball it proves that if you wish to race a Californian cross-country frame that isn’t from the big red ‘S’, you have alternatives.
Plus, single-speed compatibility for those who wish to add some power miles to their training program.
Trail-shredding performance doesn't have to cost the earth, for just a small bump in cost over the best mountain bikes under £1000, we think the Vitus Sentier 29 VRX offers an unbeatable package. In fact, if you're looking for a bike for days tearing up trail centers and local singletrack the Sentier VRX makes it hard to justify spending more money.
Modern trail geometry and 130mm of travel from a Fox 34 Float Performance fork keep the Sentier up to speed on the trail. Shimano brakes bring the bike to a stop using SLX brakes, and there is also an XT rear derailleur that leads up an SLX 12-speed drivetrain. The bike is easy to maintain as well with outer cable routing (apart from the dropper) and a threaded bottom bracket shell.
Many companies have embraced the do-everything capabilities of trail hardtails and Kona's Big Honzo has been leading the trail bike category for a long time. To create a bike that can take on anything Kona has used its trail carbon fiber to build a frame that has enough brutish qualities to muscle through the toughest terrain while still light enough to pedal all day.
The Big Honzo's biggest strength is its adaptability. All frames have the same low standover height so bike size can be chosen on reach figures without being stifled by leg length. Kona has designed the Honzo around 27.5+ with enough clearance for a 3-inch tire but is also compatible with 29er wheels.
While the Big Honzo will eat up most trails with a big grin, if gravity-induced madness is frequently on the menu an angle set can be used to slacken out the 67.5-degree head angle and ISCG05 tabs for a chain guide (remember those).
Hardcore hardtails have always had an almost cult-like following in the UK - chiefly owing to our tight short forest trails, rich dirt jumping history and a build-it-yourself mentality of a few homegrown companies. One of those players is Orange Bikes who has been building hardcore bikes since 1988.
The Orange P7 has seen a huge evolution since its first release, growing from a bike that would have more in common with modern gravel bikes and into a hardtail built for the most demanding trails.
Orange has stuck with tradition and built the P7 from Reynolds 525 for a forgiving twangier ride feel that is attributed to steel frames. A head angle of 65-degrees and 140mm of travel keep the bike tracking straight and in control when the riding gets zesty. The P7 comes with clearance for 29x2.6-inch or 27.5x3.0-inch tires as well as a 27.5 version of the P7.
The Canadian boutique brand has significantly redesigned its downhill-biased hardtail and if you love railing berms and launching jumps, this is the bike for you.
Banshee’s staff includes a former Rolls-Royce aviation engineer and, as such, the brand does nothing for the sake of fashion or trend. All its frame engineering has fundamental technical justification. The claim is that the third-generation Paradox rides with the compliance and comfort of a steel frame, while bringing the lower mass benefit of an aluminum construction.
Beautifully machined stays with structural cut-outs (which allow for lateral flex) are supported by internally ribbed tubing, to guarantee strength.
With a raw carbon look, this German cross-country race bike signals speed at first glance.
The Elite offers standard race geometry with a 69-degree head tube angle and a 73.8-degree seat tube angle. This model offers top-tier components like a SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS wireless drivetrain. However, Cube offers four different build packages so racers can find the right bike that suits their needs.
Best hardtail mountain bikes: everything you need to know
The absence of rear suspension has benefits and disadvantages. Your bias in relation to either requires careful consideration to make the best possible hardtail bike choice.
If you are trying to conquer black-rated descents on a hardtail, then yes, you need a frame that will accommodate the largest possible fork, longest possible dropper post and largest possible rear tires.
For those riders who are more focused on fitness, hardtails climb better than dual-suspension bikes because they have less mass, and there is no energy loss being converted into suspension movement.
Conversely, they can be a touch more punishing if you attempt to rally through rock gardens and huck enormous doubles.
Without rear-suspension to cushion terrain, frame material and layup become an important consideration. Diverse materials and tube sizes will absorb terrain impacts differently, which can either increase or decrease your ride comfort.
1. Tire volume
An easy way to add more ride comfort to any hardtail is by increasing its rear tire size and allowing that additional air volume in that tire to act as a marginal suspension intermediary of sorts. To run a larger rear tire you’ll need wider chain stay and seat stay spacing.
2. Seat tube diameter
Seat tube diameter is a huge influence on general ride comfort, too. If you are seated and rolling along on even terrain or climbing, a great deal of terrain compliance results from your seat tube’s flexibility. The larger your seat tube diameter is, the harsher the ride quality will be. This is the reason why 27.2mm seat tubes have remained in fashion with hardtail mountain bike designers.
This seat tube diameter issue, in as much as it is related to ride comfort, adds complexity to the question of dropper seat post compatibility. There is a trend towards a minimal seat tube diameter of 30.9mm, due to dropper seat posts becoming more popular, even with weight-obsessed cross-country riders.
Seat tube diameter is a considerable specification decision for any hardtail rider. If you are going to roll big mileage and prefer a fixed seat post to save weight, the compliance of a 27.2mm tube diameter frame is important. Prefer having a more balanced riding experience with some fun on the descents? Then you’d need either a 30.9mm or 31.6mm frame to accommodate most of the contemporary dropper seat post configurations.
Hardtails are rationally better due to an inherent simplicity and lower cost of maintenance, but weight is their currency. If you are counting grams, the lightest bike on this list is the Cube Elite. Thanks to modern geometry and build kits, even the lightest cross-country bikes can tackle the most technical downhills with ease.
Those hardtail loyalists who seek a light bike with winter weather survivability should consider the Santa Cruz Highball. Its ability to run single speed will dramatically reduce component wear and rider frustration during an intense block of winter training in muddy conditions. It remains one of the very few carbon hardtails which accommodates the suffering of single-speed converts.